The Collis P. Huntington Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society chartered the first rail excursion of the New River Gorge (now the New River Gorge National Park)in May of 1966. The Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad operated the trip, utilizing a far shorter train than what fans of the New River Trains came to expect in later years.
The Chapter operated excursion trains every year from 1966 to 2018 with the exception eight years in the 1960s and 1970s, with those trains not operating due to equipment shortages.
In 1995 Amtrak assumed operation of the New River Train, after almost 30 years of CSX and CSX predecessors operating the train. This allowed the train to run as an Amtrak train, and most importantly, the train was able to operate at a much lower cost due to the insurance protections Amtrak provided.
In the Spring of 2019, The Collis P. Huntington Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society voted to not operate the New River Train, citing cost control issues, and previous financial losses during the 2018 excursion season.
In early August of 2019 the Railway Excursion Management Company announced that they would operate a trip along the New River Gorge route, replacing the New River Train – The Autumn Colors Express. Railexco tapped nonprofit partners Fort Wayne Historical Society and the Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation to assist in the logistics and staffing of the event, exhibiting the spirit of collaboration that is so necessary in 21st Century rail preservation. The relaunched trip between Huntington and Hinton, WV will also make a station stop in the capitol of West Virginia, Charleston.
The continuation of this event, after the previous operator’s abandonment, promises further economic stimulus for the State of West Virginia, as noted by United States Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) in his press release praising Railexco’s involvement. Particularly, the Hinton Railroad Days Festival, held at the ACE’s halfway point of Hinton, West Virginia will once again bring this small community together with the goal of providing train guests with a memorable day, while also raising scholarship money to help local high school students attend college.
In 2019, the two departure cities of Huntington and Charleston saw more than 2,500 guests descend upon their cities over three days, enjoying hotels, restaurants, and many local attractions.
With support of so many stakeholders- Senator Manchin, the cities of Hinton, Huntington and Charleston, our nonprofit partners, our dedicated volunteers, and our passengers- the Autumn Colors Express has continued the storied tradition of the New River Train, and promises to do so well into the future.